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Hendersonville Opera House

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
The City Hall and Opera House
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Hendersonville used to have a Romanesque Opera House on Main Street, where the Village Green Antique Mall is now.

There is an inscription on the building that is now Village Green Antique Mall at 424 N Main St in Hendersonville.

Site of Hendersonville's Town Hall and Opera House
Site of Hendersonville’s Town Hall and Opera House

J.C.Penny’s built and occupied this building for over 45 years. From 1893 until 1925 Hendersonville’s Town Hall and Opera house stood on this location. Romanesque in architecture, the building housed all city services and a 400 seat auditorium.

Hendersonville Historic Preservation Commission

An Opera House? Hendersonville was a pretty big town by then. The railroad came by 1879. The huge Wheeler Hotel was built in 1895. But opera? City Hall and Opera House?

Historic City Hall Opera Houses
Historic City Hall Opera Houses

You can find a lot of old postcards and current examples of combination City Hall and Opera House.

An opera house wasn’t really just for opera.

Wikipedia says, “Early United States opera houses served a variety of functions in towns and cities, hosting community dances, fairs, plays, and vaudeville shows as well as operas and other musical events.”

In the 19th-century United States, many theaters were given the name “opera house,” even ones where opera was seldom if ever performed. Opera was viewed as a more respectable art form than theater; calling a local theater an “opera house” therefore served to elevate it and overcome objections from those who found the theater morally objectionable.

Opera House, Wikipedia

Wikipedia cites Coal and Culture: Opera Houses in Appalachia by William Faricy Condee, “The term ‘opera house’ is indeed misleading, and intentionally so; it provides a veneer of social and cultural respectability and avoids the stigma of the title ‘theater.'”

1904 Postcard of Main Street Hendersonville Hendersonville Town Hall and Opera House is on the right.
1904 Postcard of Main Street Hendersonville
Hendersonville Town Hall and Opera House is on the right.

You can find this postcard online. A search will bring you to the UNCA – D.H. Ramsey Library.

The description of the photo says;

View of Main Street in Hendersonville, N.C., looking North. On the right is the Old Opera House which housed the Public Library and offices on the third floor. An auditorium was on the top floor where the first movie pictures in Hendersonville were shown. Next to the Opera House was Livery Stable and then the doctor’s office. The type of entertainment in the Opera House ranged from stock companies, which gave a different show every night, to motorcycle races on the second floor. Main Street of Hendersonville, N.C., unpaved.

“Main Street, Hendersonville, N.C..” A.F. Baker photographer (P640), Jody Barber Photographic Collection,  D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNC Asheville 28804
Photo by Jody Barber
D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville
toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/photo/barber/pages/main_street.htm

So, the Opera House was an auditorium where you could sometimes see movies. It say, “stock companies… gave a different show every night. Encyclopaedia Britannica says a stock company is a troupe of actors “performing regularly in a particular theatre, presenting a different play nightly from its repertory of prepared productions. Stock companies were usually composed of players who specialized in dramatic types such as the tragedian, or leading man; the leading lady; the heavy lead, who played villains; the old woman; the juvenile lead, who played the young lover or heroic roles; the soubrette, or female second lead; and the low comedian.”

It also says there were motorcycle races on the second floor! The building was big!

And it says the Old Opera House housed the Public Library. Other books say that “at the request of a group of ladies” a reading room was set aside for them in the Town Hall and Opera House.

The Library History page begins their Timeline with

1894: Lila Ripley Barnwell donated some books and persuaded the Town Commissioners to give “The Library Club” a room at the newly completed City Hall.

1897: Hendersonville Town Commissioner gave another room at City Hall to be the Library Reading Room.

1899: Miss Mary Sample was appointed to be in charge of the Library Room two or three afternoons a week.

www.hendersoncountync.gov/library/page/library-history

So this Romanesque Opera House was the site our library was born.

Chapter Six - The Twentieth Century A Guide to Historic Henderson County North Carolina By Alexia Jones Helsley and Dr. George A. Jones
Chapter Six – The Twentieth Century
A Guide to Historic Henderson County North Carolina
By Alexia Jones Helsley and Dr. George A. Jones

This same photo is in A Guide to Historic Henderson County North Carolina.

Main Street, Hendersonville, looking north showing the tree-lined, but unpaved s, streets. Shown on the right is the town hall and opera house. Located above city offices and the library, the opera house was the entertainment center of the community. Residents also viewed movies in the auditorium. Built in 1893, the building was razed in 1925…
Jody Barber Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Chapter Six – The Twentieth Century
A Guide to Historic Henderson County North Carolina
By Alexia Jones Helsley and Dr. George A. Jones

1904 Postcard of Main Street Hendersonville Hendersonville Town Hall and Opera House is on the right.
1904 Postcard of Main Street Hendersonville
Hendersonville Town Hall and Opera House is on the right.

Here is a closer look.

Hendersonville City of Four Seasons Images of America: Hendersonville By Galen Reuther and Lu Ann Welter
Hendersonville City of Four Seasons
Images of America: Hendersonville
By Galen Reuther and Lu Ann Welter

Images of America: Hendersonville shows the Town Hall and Opera House from the other direction. Do you notice the power and light poles go right down the middle of the street?

This is a postcard showing the original Hendersonville town hall and opera house. The postcard is dated July 6, 1904. The photograph appears to have been taken just after the building opened. The town hall and opera house dominated the east side of Main Street in the 400 block. The opera was used for plays, recitals, and one man shows.

Chapter One – Hendersonville City of Four Seasons
Images of America: Hendersonville
By Galen Reuther and Lu Ann Welter

1910 Postcard The Hendersonville Opera House is just visible at the top left.
1910 Postcard
The Hendersonville Opera House is just visible at the top left.

In this postcard from 1910 The Opera House is just visible behind the trees. It looks like these images are from after phone, but before power and lights. See the streetcar tracks?

1910 Postcard The Hendersonville Opera House is just visible at the top left.
1910 Postcard
The Hendersonville Opera House is just visible at the top left.

See? There it is.

Ad for entertainment at the Opera House
Ad for entertainment at the Opera House

Here is an advertisement for a play at the Opera House from The News of Henderson County from Hendersonville, North Carolina from July 22, 1921.

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Hendersonville and Henderson County, A Pictorial History by Jody Barber and Louise Bailey have this view of the Town Hall and Opera House. It makes it easier to see how big it is. I am still having a hard time imagining the motorcycle races on the second floor, though.

From 1893 until it was torn down in 1925, the Town Hall and Opera House served a variety of purposes. Facing Main Street, the brick building was entered through two arched double doors, one leading to offices of town officials, the other to a foyer with a ticket booth and stairs to the auditorium. Police and fire departments were on a lower level reached by a walkway on the north side of the building.

One lightning rod extended from a cupola on the tower and another from the southwest side of the building. Several years after the hall was built, a bell was placed in the tower.

Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Here is a closer view of the photo.

At one time, the building provided space for a private school, and a reading room was established in it at the request of a group of ladies. Weather signals were displayed from the flagpole and military drill was held on the stage in the auditorium.

By 1890, the town of Hendersonville was growing up and changes were going to have to be made… Plans were immediately made to build the Town Hall and Opera House, which was completed in 1893 and remained in use until 1925, when the structure was condemned and a new city hall was built.

Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Progress is evident as we look south from Baker’s Art Gallery on the corner of Main Street and Sixth Avenue West. Power poles have been moved from the center of Main Street to allow more room for traffic. … the Town Hall and Opera House is seen in the center of the block.

Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

The power and light poles used to go down the middle of the street.

After the installation of a water system, other utilities followed, with electricity replacing oil lamps in the Town Hall and Opera House and on Main Street, and the completion of telephone lines to Asheville and Spartanburg in 1898.

Through personal efforts that included the gift of land by Capt. M.C. Toms and a generous donation of money by Andrew Carnegie, a public library was build and the ladies of the town no longer had to use the reading room set aside for them in the Town Hall and Opera House.

Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Carnegie Library in Hendersonville, NC >

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

This gives an even better idea of the scale of this building.

Hendersonville and Henderson County A Pictorial History By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey
Hendersonville and Henderson County
A Pictorial History
By Jody Barber and Louise Bailey

Here is a closer look.

Village Green Antique Mall in the J. C. Penny Building, built in 1939 on the site of Hendersonville's Town Hall and Opera
Village Green Antique Mall in the J. C. Penny Building, built in 1939 on the site of Hendersonville’s Town Hall and Opera Building

The Main Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places registration form just mentions it. After describing the Hendersonville City Hall building at 145 5th Ave. E., it says, “It replaced a circa 1892 Romanesque City Hall and Opera House which had been on Main Street.”

What happened to the Town Hall and Opera Building? The building was condemned and torn down in 1925. Years later, in 1939, J. C. Penny built an underwhelming “plain, two-story striated brick structure with concrete cap at parapet. Projecting lines of brick at second story windows and vertical articulation at cap give facade a minimal art moderne look. Presently divided into a mini-mall.” Main Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places registration form

I haven’t found out what made it unsafe yet. Hendersonheritage.com just says the building was  “deemed unsafe by the state and ordered torn down.” hendersonheritage.com/tourism-industry-and-mining/ I haven’t found anything more detailed.

The New City Hall

Postcard of Hendersonville City Hall. 1926-1928. A conservative, Neo-Classical Revival structure
Postcard of Hendersonville City Hall

This is the Town Hall and Fire Station that replaced it. The old City Hall was torn down in 1925. The new one wasn’t available until 1928.

145 5th Ave. E. Hendersonville City Hall. 1926-1928.
A conservative, Neo-Classical Revival structure, designed by ErIe Stilwell. It is a rectangular, two story brick structure with a raised basement. A flight of stairs leads up to the main entrance which is under a full height tetrastyle portico. The actual entrance consists of a bracketed, pedimented doorway. The roof is flat and unadorned. Windows are double hung, framed by molded concrete surrounds and cornice on first floor, and arched brick with a concrete keystone above 2nd floor windows.
An inscription above the portico reads “Erected by the People/Dedicated to the Perpetuation/of Civic Progress Liberty and/The Security of Public Honor.” Most of the original interior fabric is intact. Hendersonville’s City Hall is one of several public structures executed by local architect ErIe Stilwell during the 1920s. Although he sometimes employed other styles, Stilwell worked most frequently in a conservative Neo-Classical style in his non-residential buildings. The structure reflects both the prosperity of Hendersonville during the 1920s and the architectural sophistication ErIe Stilwell’s practice brought to the city. It replaced a circa 1892 Romanesque City Hall and Opera House which had been on Main Street. The new structure was started in 1926 and dedicated in November of 1928.

Main Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places registration form

The building still looks almost identical to this, but the bottom is no longer the fire station.

After the original Town Hall was torn down in 1925, construction began on the new City Hall. It was completed in 1928. Originally the Police and Fire Departments were on the ground floor, a Courtroom on the second floor, administrative offices on the third floor, and the City Jail on the Fourth floor. The fourth floor is not visible from the street as it is hidden behind a facade. The photo below dates to circa 1940.

www.hendersonvillenc.gov/police-department/history-our-department

So where was everybody working from for those three years? I vaguely remember reading somewhere that they made do with temporary tin roof buildings, very basic. But I can’t find it, so it may not be accurate.